The things we carry to this Memorial Day, 2022, are freighted with more recent events than past battles. On the last Monday in May, we look back to honor our war dead; this year we also hold in our hearts love for the friends and family members who died this year and last in the pandemic. We stagger under the weight of one million Americans dead of Covid-19. This has been a war, too.
This year, especially, it feels appropriate to broaden the meaning of Memorial Day to honor the sacrifice of all those who have lived through the plague of our time, including the medical teams and the teachers and the workers who kept showing up and, especially, the parents who have fought a front-line battle every day since winter 2020. The efforts of scientists to develop vaccines with unprecedented speed have been astonishing and heroic.
My special heroes are our teenagers, who gave up nearly every single aspect of joy in their lives to stay healthy and keep their parents and grandparents safe. Teens live for connection and freedom and breaking through boundaries and trying new things. During Covid, the constraints have been particularly onerous for them. In an ironic twist, just as the world was awakening to the dangers of screen time, so many millions of kids were pushed ever further into the digital world of texting and Zooming. As we all know, our teens are experiencing a secondary epidemic of depression and stress and mental health crises.
I want to honor their sacrifice. I say this out loud to my teenage grandkids, and I want them to know that we know how tough it has been.
The parents of young kids have been raising their children without the relief of school and play dates and family gatherings. Many struggled to keep the home front safe and productive. They were also trying to work, to pay the bills, to get meals on the table. I wish there were medals of honor for them, too.
Growing up, I watched Memorial Day parades along Broadway in Woodmere. Later, my kids marched down the avenue with their school bands, tooting on their clarinets. In my mind’s eye I can see them looking so proud to be part of the parade, glancing sideways to catch my eye as they walked by. They stopped at the war memorial on the corner of Broadway and Conklin and, in a solemn ceremony, offered gratitude to those who died in our great wars.
I imagine that as children march in this year’s Memorial Day parades and parents gather on the sidewalks, with or without masks, thoughts of other losses will bleed into the moment — as it should be when so many are scarred by painful memories of the past two years.
Many Americans visit cemeteries and place flags on the graves of soldiers who defended American democracy in conflicts going back to the Civil War. We have seen images of hundreds of thousands of flags on the Mall in the nation’s capital, each a reminder of someone who died too soon or too young during this raging pandemic. For me, it is all threaded together.
These past two years have been a battle, complicated by divisions and conflicts among our citizens. Add to this the suffering in Ukraine beaming into our homes and onto our devices every single day in recent months. This aggression, an amalgam of old-fashioned warfare and new-age weapons, is displacing millions of people and killing children and civilians in staggering numbers. Doesn’t this war have an unofficial place in our Memorial Day as well?
It’s a big job being a thoughtful American citizen today. We want to keep up our traditions and we need to move along with life, somehow weaving our most recent pandemic losses into the fabric of our days.
According to NPR, Marked By Covid, a grass-roots group, is advocating for a National Day of Remembrance to honor those who died.
In the meantime, on this Memorial Day, I will think about all those brave kids who carried the American flag onto beaches in Normandy, and friends who died in Vietnam and those who were killed in Afghanistan and on so many other foreign fields far from home.
I will remember the more recent losses of friends who died of Covid, and I will also go to a barbecue and eat a hot dog and celebrate our lives, which are ever so precious. We just have to do it all.
This Memorial Day is like no other.
Copyright 2022 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.